Shopping at Draeger's Marketplace in downtown San Mateo, Calif., bears little resemblance to supermarket shopping. The family-owned business, headquartered in nearby Menlo Park, is designed to evoke the hallowed market halls of Europe yet still provide the convenience and product range of an American supermarket.

The design of Draeger's Marketplace is decidedly more upscale than a typical supermarket, with stained maple surfaces, granite countertops, custom lighting fixtures and replicas of Italian patio banners hanging from the ceiling. Project designer Bill Brigham, associate principal for San Francisco-based Field Paoli Architects, notes that his firm gave the store aisles that run parallel rather than perpendicular to the front of the store.

"Produce is along one side and the meat department along the other, providing lively vistas in every aisle," he says, adding that the characteristic also sets Draeger's apart from a regular grocery store. "You're not just looking out toward checkout stands."

Brigham says the project presented several design challenges. City officials, hoping to use the market as a catalyst for downtown revival, insisted the building not present a blank facade to the street. To fulfill that request, a 1,000 sq. ft. cafe was placed at the front of the building, with entrances from both the sidewalk and the store's interior. In addition, the Field Paoli team created several false entrances, with painted scenes placed behind unusable French doors.

In another departure from convention, the store devotes almost as much space to other food-related activities as it does to grocery shopping. The 29,500 sq. ft. second floor holds a cooking school, kitchen and dinner ware shop, a 120-seat formal restaurant, and a private, 48-seat dining room. A large central atrium offers views to the bustling market below.

According to Richard Draeger, vice president of operations, the store will likely benefit from the attention it pays to the burgeoning premade-meals segment of food market retail. "The demand for prepared foods will only increase as the years go by, and our presentation makes the food really appealing," he says.

As for the stores' ancillary uses, Draeger points out that they not only serve as profit centers in themselves but also as a means to attract customers from a wider market area with added convenience. People come to take cooking classes or buy kitchen equipment, he notes, and they buy ingredients to cook at home. Other unique store magnets include live lobsters in tanks, exhibition kitchens, butchers in view of the customer and a full-function wine-tasting area.

Draeger suggests the Marketplace concept might help promote worldly attitudes toward supermarket shopping. "Americans have become much more sophisticated in their tastes, and food -- especially gourmet and ethnic fare -- has become a powerful draw," he says.

John McCloud is a contributing editor to Shopping Center World and INStore.